Car Care / Cars / Tech

Headlight Restoration: Clearing Your Way To Safer Driving

Chalky, hazed, and cloudy headlights add years to the look of your car and can seriously impair your vision. You don’t have to live with them. I just bought my son a Subaru WRX. It was the cheapest, still-running WRX on Craigslist… it had 200,000 miles on the clock and it looked the part. The headlights were horribly dull and dingy.

They were faded and yellow, but to make matters worse, someone had tried to wipe them down with a caustic cleaner that left toweling marks on the lenses. You could see the path of the towel as it was swiped across the surface. So the headlights were not just weathered, suffering from the combination of the elements and time, there was some ill-advised human intervention at work here as well.

It was bad and I wondered if they could be saved at all. After checking four Subaru dealerships I found the going price for 2002 bugeye WRX headlights was $339… each. With $678 at stake, I changed my mindset and took a more “I knew they could be saved” approach (picture crossed fingers).

I decided to chronicle my restoration exploits here and drop some tips and tricks that will make anyone considering the use of our Headlight Restoration Kit feel more at ease with the process. The kit includes a can of Headlight Restoration Coating for UV protection, a sanding pad, two towels, and three alcohol wipes.

First, be sure the forecast is sunny. I had to wait two weeks before the sun and a weekend lined up. Second, read our directions. Don’t scan them. Don’t read them as you go. Read them through… all nine steps and the Wet Sanding paragraph… before starting the project.

After cleaning the headlight of any grime, bug splats, wax residue, or the like with Griot’s Garage Glass Cleaner the first step is masking. Use only masking tape do not mask with tape and newspaper. I did this on my first headlight and my wet sanding step created messy newspaper pulp. The tape protects the paint during wet sanding then the dry headlamp is masked with newspaper to guard against overspray during the UV protectant application step.

Using water or soapy car wash water as a lubricant, douse the included sandpaper pad and the headlamp… I used an empty Griot’s bottle that’s been repurposed as a water-only bottle. Sand the surface to an even, cloudy finish. The process will result in a milky yellow run off. Continue spraying and sanding until you see the milky yellow turn milky white. Typical sanding time is three to five minutes. Dry the surface. It should be uniformly frosty or opaque in appearance. Identify shiny, clear areas and sand them into submission. You can’t really over-sand the headlight so take a more is better approach. The kit includes a 600-grit aluminum oxide sanding pad. It should be noted that this pad does not equate to 600-grit conventional sandpaper so do not substitute sanding media. We use aluminum oxide because it will not load up with debris like regular sandpaper and it lasts longer.

Now it’s time to prep for the UV protectant. We used newspaper but feel free to improvise. The key is to guard against overspray. Try opening the hood and wraping the newspaper around it to help isolate the headlamp. Also, blot drying the existing masking tape will help new tape stick. With masking complete, use the alcohol wipe as a final prep.

Spray the UV protectant aerosol in slow, smooth passes starting and ending beyond the edge of the headlamp. The goal is even application of the protectant. More light coats are preferred to fewer heavier coats. You should make three or four passes over each headlight, the danger being running out of protectant before you have attained proper coverage. The surface will have an orange peelish look to it but this will ‘flatten out’ as the coating dries.

Final clarity is realized during the curing process. Ironically, the sun is required to lock in the UV protection. The treated lenses need to be in direct sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes for initial curing. I had a UV lamp on hand in case the sun betrayed me. But Mother Nature smiled down on me as the sun beamed through an overcast sky right on cue as I was finished spraying the headlight.

Final curing takes about three or four hours of direct sunlight and you should refrain from washing your car for a day after application. As you can see, the Headlight Restoration Kit saved the day… and $678 plus tax.

I found the restoration of the second headlamp proceeded much quicker than the first because I had developed a baseline and didn’t have to question what I was doing every step of the way. However, you may consider restoring both headlights simultaneously as this will help ensure you have enough spray to treat both.

If you see some aerosol overspray on the vehicle’s paint after tearing away the newspaper mask, quickly remove the residue with adhesive remover if it’s gummy (do not spray on headlights) or Paint Cleaning Clay or a Surface Prep Mitt if it has dried.

The restoration process was not at all intimidating, it was a fun and effective exercise and my results really shocked the senses… much to the relief of my wallet. I plan to monitor how the revitalized headlights fare during the winter months and beyond and will post a quick update in the future. Until then, happy headlight restoring.

Have fun in your garage!

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